Mean Joe Greene dislikes how money has changed NFL players

Getty Images

Mean Joe Greene, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who retired last week from the Steelers’ front office, has been around the NFL for almost half a century. And he doesn’t like all the changes he’s seen.

Greene told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that money has become too much of a focus of players these days, and he says it frustrated him in recent years when he saw players on the Steelers make an issue of who was making what, instead of focusing on how they could all unite to win.

“The scary thing is that players have a one-upsmanship about money; they sign a contract and they like it until someone signs a bigger one and now they don’t like it. I don’t like that,” Greene said, via “I don’t begrudge anyone money but it disrupts the football team.”

Greene played on a Steelers team that was loaded with Hall of Famers, and he said none of his teammates ever allowed money to be a distraction.

“It’s an attitude change. In all my years of being with Pittsburgh, I never encountered a player taking a contract dispute into the season and letting that dispute affect the way he played. That’s a bad thing,” Greene said. “I think that’s the attitude and direction that was so preeminent with the Pittsburgh Steelers; it was about family, it was about team, the organization. Everyone in the organization would get treated fairly because we were a family.”

Greene may be right, but those days aren’t coming back. Treating football teams like businesses, not like families, has made players a whole lot richer than they were in Greene’s time.

61 responses to “Mean Joe Greene dislikes how money has changed NFL players

  1. Greene is right, football HAS changed, and not for the better. When I started following the game, you identified with the player and the team. Greene, Lambert, Ham, Stallworth, etc. personified the Steelers. Stabler, Shell, Upshaw, Long, were the Raiders. Namath wasn’t a Ram, he WAS the Jets. And so on. Today, aside from rookie contracts, players come and go pretty much as they please. Peyton Manning was the exception nowadays, not the norm. There’s little or no continuity anymore and it’s hurting the game, in my opinion.

  2. Well, a lot of these players from the “good old days” are now hobbleded and broke. Sorry Joe, but your starting sound like Ol’ Stephen in “Django”.

  3. Another old man talking about how things were so much better back in the day. Football wasn’t better then, just different. Old people tend to let nostalgia interfere with reality. Thanks for your opinion Grandpa Joe. Here’s a shiny nickel for you to go away now.

  4. Salary cap/free agency era and cut throat agents. Its no surprise that money is the motive for this generation

  5. Joe is right on the money (pun intended). What he said applies to all professional sports. Football is just catching up to baseball and basketball in this regard. It’s a shame.

  6. Also people don’t listen to or heed the advice of their elders anymore.

  7. Players may be a whole lot richer, but they are also a whole lot unhappier. And the game is less than it was when it was still a game and not a jackpot for failed attorneys and such ilk.

  8. I agree with Joe – but it’s not just the players. The owners don’t treat their teams like a family anymore either. They treat it like a money making billion dollar business. And likely the good old Irsay family is more responsible than most for changing this aspect of the game for the worse…

  9. You can’t totally blame the players. The owners are just as guilty for treating the game more like a business than a game. Say what you want about Al Davis, but he was the last owner to treat his players like family, even long after they retired.

  10. Kris Jenkins, circa 2010:

    “You have to understand that this is a business, so each individual player has to take the time out to worry about himself in the offseason,” Jenkins said in an interview with the NFL Network. “That’s their business. We understand that as players. So Nick and Darrelle., they know that we’re behind them.”

    That being said, one could argue that the Jets are so dysfunctional already that contract holdouts couldn’t possibly have any further negative effect in their team chemistry.

  11. The game is bigger, stronger, faster and more popular than it was “back in the day”. I was there. Instead of having a few teams hogging all the talent and automatically going to the playoffs every year, every teams fans now have a shot at the big time. The players get about 55% of the revenue. Does Joe think that they should give it back? I understand about the nostalgia, but most of the old time players wouldn’t make the roster on today’s teams. I mean, the first Superbowl didn’t even sell out.

  12. Being a young kid growing up in the 2000’s I used to listen to my dad talk about how great the 49er’s were under Eddie DeBartolo Jr, how players used to LOVE playing for him and being apart of the 49er’s because we were a a big FAMILY that won, it was probably 3 christmases in a row (3rd grade to 5th grade) that I asked Santa to have Eddie get the team back because my dad used to tell me how bad Dr John York was as a owner, unfortunately when I got to about 7th grade (when the 49ers signed Nate Clements) I realized that it no longer mattered. I learned football was a business and loyalty was out the door…I wish players were still like what Joe Green was talking about…not caring about money and just playing football for the colors they represented on there jerseys and self pride…to bad my generation will never get to see TRUE football players go out there and play every sunday….we just get to see a bunch of Prima Donnas playing a modified version of “tackle/2 hand touch” on Thursday nights and then hearing what they have to say on twitter afterward…with that said thank god Jed seems to get the clue on how to run a team

  13. In today’s league an NFL player would still happily trade an authentic game day jersey to a young fan for a Coca Cola.

    Plus $35,000

  14. I often snicker when I hear players say they play for the love of the game. 99.9% of them play for the money, not that they aren’t good teammates etc. But when it comes down to it, they want the money as much if not more than the trophy.

  15. Love this post, so many guys are worried about the wrong thing, they get this money and squander it anyway, a fool and his riches shall part easily…different generation mean Joe, the baby boomers knew how to raise their sons to appreciate the important things.

  16. Exhibit A: Mike Wallace

    Held out of camp, then became a distraction on his way to a season full of drops and very little production.

    Money turned the top 10 receiver into an average receiver that’s now paid top 3 money. Makes no sense.

  17. What do you wanna do now breath down undeservingly unpaid and deprived NCAA players’ necks to make sure that you have excess in control???

  18. In Mr. Greene’s day players used to hate other players just becuase they played on a rival team. Now with free agency its hard to be like that just because you may be playing with those guys the following season. Players motivation seems to be on the money rather than a super bowl. But if guys were throwing millions of dollars my way I’d find it to be hard for my motivation not to be the money too.

  19. I wonder what kind of a salary Mean Joe and the rest of the 70’s Steeler roster would be making today?

  20. He’s right, and it is not just football players. Many of these players equate money with “love”, loyalty and “respect”. They use the contracts as a competition. It doesn’t matter that a decent player makes $7M/yr. That player always seems to think he is the best in the league and wants to be paid the most. If another guy gets a contract for $7.5M/yr there will likely be a contract dispute in the near future. When exactly did not trying to make a tackle become a “business decision”?

  21. Sad to say, but it’s just the sign of the times. The Lakers back in the day had, Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Scott, etc.. No one complained about the ball or how many shots they got and they played as a team. Celtics too! Fast forward to the Kobe times. He and Shaq couldn’t get along. Two stars and the court wasn’t big enough for them (Not a laker fan at all).

    EVERYTHING is about me me and me now. Gordon Gecko would be happy if he were a real person, cause right now Greed is good according to these players.

  22. I agree, but I’ll take it a step further. I don’t like how the money has changed the fans. I’m not sure how to entirely how to express this, I appologize for rambling, but when I was growing up, I was told that sports were about physical greatness and the Will to win. Now, it feels like that is no longer how we as fans view athletic competition at all. Now we sit around looking at the business side of the games as much as the enjoyment of how the games were played. This isn’t a football player, but a great recent example, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, he is so concerned with his “career” that even after being cleared for over two months, he doesn’t want to sieze greatness and fight alongside his team in the playoffs. My issue is with him, but ever more so, it is will Bulls’ fans, who sit back and defend him. The Bulls are in the second round of the playoffs, fighting tooth and nail, and many Bulls’ fans are more concerned with D. Rose’s future with the franchise, these moments don’t just come along every year (ask Marino). The business aspect of all sports has done more than just affect players, it has also turned the fans.

  23. I’m pretty sure more than the sport of football has changed since mean joe played. It’s pretty natural for players and owners to care about who gets millions of dollars. And if anyone is to blame its the teams not the players. What a joke

  24. To brittishteeth and others whose gaps in thinking are bigger than the gaps between their teeth:

    What is the point in attacking anything Joe Greene had to say? Their was nothing incorrect or inaccurate about his assessment of the current state of affairs. Never before has there been such a generation of professional athletes who are blessed with such great skills and wealth while remaining largely unhappy, unsatisfied and ungrateful for their wealth. While athletes by their nature are competitive, the overwhelming need to equate top dollar with respect surely disrupts team harmony and the athletes’ ability to enjoy what should be the sweetest time of their life. Yes, times change but richer doesn’t necessarily translate to happier and calling it the American way doesn’t mean that it’s unassailable the better way.

  25. Joe made these comments, lamenting the days when money didn’t influence players, while reclining in a comfortable chair inside his mansion and sipping a double latte.

  26. Can you imagine how great the game would be if they had fixed salaries for every player? I get the nfl makes billions and players deserve a portion of that but even with the corporate nfl world something needs to reign them in. Many of these players wouldn’t make $75,000 a year if it weren’t for football, many would be at minimum wage. With the millions being paid out, they have to fight for their money, but these guys act like what they have to go through, for a sport, is just the worst thing on the world. It’s easy for me to sit here and say this guys are greedy sobs but I view it as they play a game. They get the fancy hotels, food, training, stardom, and so on. Work out for a living and then get a few months off. I just wish we had more of the “man I’m so lucky to do this” mentality, over the “I’m not stepping out on the field until I get paid”… Remember the stories of the old guys working their real job at the factory, during the week, then playing football on the side for added income. Now those guys, those mentalities, are what’s missing in today’s game.

  27. Its a sad reality, makes it a little hard to root for guys that are playing for cash rather than playing for wins

  28. “In all my years of being with Pittsburgh, I never encountered a player taking a contract dispute into the season and letting that dispute affect the way he played. That’s a bad thing,” Greene said. “Now get off my lawn.”

    And he would be rich if he were playing today.

  29. It may be time to keep players contracts confidential. How many of you walk around posting on Craigs List what your income is? The league can monitor salary cap situations. Why do WE need to know what they make? If they stop talking about how much they make, they just might, you know, play the game instead of starting a jealousy war.

  30. Says the guy who was always the highest paid at his position with endorsement deals when he played. Just like when Brett Favre criticized Jevon Walker for wanting to get paid, it rings kind of hollow coming from the star player who’s always gotten paid.

  31. “Greene played on a Steelers team that was loaded with Hall of Famers, and he said none of his teammates ever allowed money to be a distraction.”

    -should read-

    Greene played on a Steelers team that was loaded with JUICED UP Hall of Famers, and he said none of his teammates ever allowed money to be a distraction.

    Since no one will ever let NE forget camera-gate, we have a responsibility to make sure PITT fans know that their 70 “titles” are all for more suspect.

    San Fran And Denver, too.

  32. When Mean Joe played, Wall Street stock traders usually had to have second jobs just to pay their bills. The entire western culture, not just in America, and certainly not just pro sports, has changed. Somewhere along the line over the last 40 years, success began to be measured by the size of one’s bank account. Everything else is inconsequential.

  33. In every professional sport, every generation says this about the generation(s) after them.

    And, they’re all correct.

    It’s just the way of the world.

    Even nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

  34. Owners turned the NFL into a mutlibillion dollar business and honestly have gotten away with murder compared to the basketball and especially the baseball salaries. People slamming the players for wanting to be compensated as the entertainers that they are no different from those dopey movie stars who you go watch in their tired movies are kind of stupid.

    A lot of those movies bomb, while on the other hand the NFL and the Super Bowl is a guaranteed cash cow with the unreal TV ratings every year. What else is as sure a thing of revenue? So why deny the reason that it makes so much money from getting paid as much as possible? Nobody would watch Joe Schmo instead of Peyton Manning playing QB. The stars make the game and deserve every penny that they get.

    If anything, the owners have found a way to screw the players again with this last CBA. Look at all the veterans that can still play either not signed, getting squeezed out the door prematurely, or having to accept inferior 1 year deals at the end of their contract. This all while the rookie cap has basically put every player at a disadvantage where they really have one shot to get paid now, on their second contract. After the second contract, the fate of so many veterans that you’ve seen cut recently and still are looking for jobs will await them unless they’re a superstar the caliber of a Peyton Manning or someone of that ilk.

  35. Got to respect Joe! One of the greatest players ever. It was better when players stayed together on the same team throughout most of their playing days. Those days are over though and will never return.

  36. So how would Joe have the money split up?

    It’s the same amount of money. Should more go to the owners and less to the players?

    The money thing to me at least is the biggest turn-off of the NFL and Div I football.

  37. Mean Joe is more than right. But, its a culture the NFL has permitted, created, and promoted by giving rookies for quite a long time inflated contracts, and Quarterbacks outrageous money, regardless their stats. There are 53 men on the roster, and the pay should not be so skewed. There is no more team, because guys are split in the locker room over dollars. Create more of a pay per play system, and you will see football rise to another level of intensity.

  38. Money ruins everything. A great pie maker ruins the pies as the bean counters look to cut costs and maximize profits by reducing ingredients in the pie. The NFL was ruined the day they signed the first mega TV deal. Players wanted part of the pie because they were putting their bodies on the line and were the stars. Multibillionaire owners demanded that the taxpayers pay for their lavish palaces. This is not your father’s or grandfather’s NFL anymore.

    Even the college game is getting ruined by BCS money and more and more teams are cheating, figuring a couple years of sanctions are worth the millions in bowl money, donations, TV, etc. *cough* SEC *cough*. Penn St even allowed a child predator to roam free as long as the millions came rolling in.

  39. Green was the WORST NFL coach I’d ever seen. I go to Cardinals training camp every year. The few years he coached the D line he sat in a chair not falling asleep in Flagstaff half way saying ‘go’.
    The players were laughing at him as he slept during drills. He did this day after day. Baby joe won’t get any love fromCards fans who saw his putrid coaching.

  40. bombayjon says:
    May 9, 2013 7:09 AM
    You can’t totally blame the players. The owners are just as guilty for treating the game more like a business than a game. Say what you want about Al Davis, but he was the last owner to treat his players like family, even long after they retired.
    I agree the blame has two sides. That said, Al had his good points, but not a whole lot of owners had players and coaches suing them for their contracts. I just read Pastorini’s book and he had to sue Davis to get the money owed him. I think Shanny’s still waiting. And there are others. Pastorini thought Davis was great when he first went to the Raiders but one he wasn’t the starter, Al treated him like dirt.

    The main thing is that even things that are good for the players like free agency which I have always been behind can lead to “unintended consequences” like players being more mercenary and owners treating them as such.

  41. Aw, the poor baby millionaires can’t horde all the money anymore. Now people from working class backgrounds actually get some! The terror! Down with the players!

  42. pirate472 says:

    Well, a lot of these players from the “good old days” are now hobbleded and broke.

    Lots of the younger guys who made millions are broke, too. I think the older guys who made less may have held onto more of their money. Ironic.

  43. Players don’t honor contracts they sign, but neither do teams. How many teams use large contracts to wow players, only to cut them 1/2 way through.

    So then when a player tries to renegotiate, its hard to come down on them too much. Not to mention, its the NFL that has created the culture. Where else would these players get millions a year for playing football? The NFL wasn’t negotiating keeping players against any other league – so why did they let the salaries get out of control with SOME players?

  44. The old days, guys like Greene didn’t play for the paycheck, because they didn’t get paid all that much. Many had jobs outside of football just to make ends meet. They played because they loved the game and the notoriety that game with it.

    Today’s game, yeah guys are playing more for the big payday (that doesn’t mean they don’t love playing), but the talent level of today’s game is astronomically better because of it, even if they are essentially more like a group of “hired mercenaries” than a “family”.

  45. Plain and simple: ESPN changed everything about sports. And that change wasn’t for the better.

  46. the talent level of today’s game is astronomically better
    Myth. There are great players and garbage players in every era. Each set of players are subject to different rules. Trying to compare them is futile.

  47. People are always sending ’round those “Remember when” e-mails about how great it was when we bounced around in cars without seatbelts and our mothers smoked when they were pregnant. Forget about the kids that flew through the windshield in crashes or suffered lifelong respiratory diseases.

    The average NFL salary Joe’s first year in the league was $23,000. When players suffered catastrophic injuries, they were dumped from their teams with no way to provide for themselves or their families. Owners got rich grinding players to dust. Not everything was as wonderful then as it seemed.

  48. Deb:
    I can’t recall ever thinking smoking pregnant women and lack of seatbelts were good things, but I can recall when players played more for the love of the game than for the love of money, which made sports, all professional sports, much better.
    Many players, mostly backups, held down real jobs in the offseasons. School teachers used to do the same thing in the summers, back when kids received REAL educations from loving, caring and disciplinarian EDUCATORS.
    Labor of love is far better than the love of money.

  49. @bobzilla …

    It’s so bizarre that those e-mails actually mention “our” mothers smoking and drinking while pregnant (mine sure didn’t) and get nostalgic about lead paint in the walls. But I was thinking today when blocked by a schoolbus at 5 p.m. how glad I am we were out at 3. I’m still close to many of my old teachers, and would find no joy in work I didn’t love. As with most things, what’s needed is a happy medium. And though football today is a much bigger business than it was in the 70s, you still see–as when last year’s hapless Eagles finally put up a win–how much pride, joy, and love many players still find in the game.

  50. Deb:
    An average salary of 23 grand in 1969 wasn’t so terrible. A six pack cost around $1.30, a new car could be had for under 3 grand, and the price of a house was in the neighborhood of $20,000.
    I bet the price of a Steelers game ticket back then was actually affordable, too.

  51. That salary might not have been so bad in relation to the prices of the day, but wasn’t much use to players who left the field with career-ending injuries. Yes, I preferred the days when all our players came from the draft and stayed through retirement. But the film Eight Men Out and the book North Dallas Forty make the case for why those days weren’t necessarily the best of times for athletes.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.